The Small Change Trilogy

Jo Walton is becoming one of my reliably enjoyable authors, someone whose books I will always read. That feeling was cemented as I read this alternate history series set in a version of Britain that made peace with Hitler during World War II.

All three books—Farthing, Ha’Penny, and Half a Crown—share a similar structure and a central character. When we meet Inspector Peter Carmichael in Farthing, he is a detective with Scotland Yard and he has come to Hampshire to investigate the murder of Sir James Thirkie, a member of the “Farthing Set,” a group that pressed for peace with Germany. The  third-person chapters that follow Carmichael’s investigation alternate with first-person chapters by Lucy Kahn, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley, who were hosting a Farthing Set gathering in their home when the murder occurred under their roof.

Lucy herself is not part of the Farthing Set. In fact, she rejects her parents politics enough to have married David Kahn, a Jewish man who becomes an immediate suspect in the murder, which everyone assumes to be an act of Jewish or Communist terrorism. In this version of 1949 Britain, anti-Semitism is acceptable, but not yet established policy. This version of Britain, in fact, felt about like other versions of Britain that I’ve encountered. The country hasn’t slid into Fascism, but it hasn’t yet rejected it. And the book reads like a country house mystery with a political edge. Lucy is a charming narrator who seems a little silly to start but is much smarter than she appears. And Peter Carmichael is a professional doing his job, unwilling to let prejudice cloud his judgment.

By the end of the book, however, everything has changed. And that leads us into the world of Ha’Penny.

In Ha’Penny, the Fascists are in power, and Carmichael has compromised his principles to protect Jack, the man he fell in love with during the Great War and has lived with ever since. Now, he is called on to investigate a bombing that killed a famous actress in her home.

Here, the investigation chapters alternate with chapters in the voice of Viola Lark, the daughter of a noble family who gave up her wealth to become an actress. Now, she’s preparing to take on a role of a lifetime in a gender-flipped version of Hamlet. The production grows in importance when Hitler and the new prime minister are said to be attending opening night. And Viola ends up drawn into a dangerous plot that she had no interest in.

As much as I enjoyed Farthing, I thought this book was even better. A lot of my enjoyment came from the theatre nerdery and backstage drama. Viola is not quite as clever as Lucy (or as the Oxford-bound Elvira from Half a Crown), but still… backstage drama… I couldn’t help myself. And I recognized Viola as someone who was mostly just oblivious, doing her own thing, not wanting people hurt, but not believing the worst about the world.

I was also fascinated by how this book worked on my loyalties as a reader. The book is structured as a crime thriller. When we read crime thrillers, we’re used to rooting for the detectives and hoping the criminals get caught. Carmichael is someone you want to root for, and when the criminal terrorists first reveal themselves, their approach is not one that will win readers over. So you have to keep stepping back and asking yourself who is really on the right side here.

The final book, Half a Crown, is complex in a different way. This book is set in 1960, more than a decade after the previous books. Carmichael is now the head of the Watch, Britain’s version of the Gestapo. Why would a decent man take such a job? Partly out of fear for Jack, but also because he believed he could do some good, prevent injustices, smuggle people to safety, perhaps making up for his failures to do the right thing in the past. And he was able to do that. He’s set up an entire operation inside the Watch. He’s also helped raise Elvira Royston, the daughter of a colleague who died in Ha’Penny.

Elvira is now 18 years old, and she’s preparing to be presented to the queen. She’s not interested in the marriage market, however. Her focus is on Oxford, where she will learn to succeed on her own terms. She doesn’t have much memory of pre-Fascist Britain, and she’s absorbed many of the prejudices around her.

Like Ha’Penny, this book is a thriller, and we see how both Elvira and Carmichael are in precarious situations, Elvira because she knows too little and Carmichael because he knows too much. It’s absorbing and upsetting, and the stakes feel higher than ever.

And the ending is completely ridiculous. I didn’t believe it for a second. But, you know what? I didn’t care. I wanted that ending. I longed for that ending. It is a silly fantasy, and I rolled my eyes as I saw it starting to play out. And yet… there’s a line, right at the end, that just about did me in:

But it seems to me that this government was not chosen freely, or in full knowledge of the facts. They have arrested those accused of no specific crime and held them in detention for long periods without bringing them to trial, they have created a climate of fear, they have shipped off suspects to foreign prisons where they knew they could expect bad treatment. This is not in the tradition of which we, as Britons, can be rightly proud.

And with those words, it’s all fixed. Yes, it’s a fantasy. It couldn’t happen, but I kind of enjoyed being able to revel in that fantasy for a bit. But that fantasy happened partly because the people started to notice and to speak. So there’s work to do in our world, too.

Edited to add: I was just poking around on Jo Walton’s website and found this interesting post on the unfortunate relevance of the Small Change books.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | 6 Comments

The Book of Joan

book of joan coverIt’s the year 2049, and ecological disaster has rendered Earth inhospitable to human life. The wealthy life on something called, CIEL, a life raft in space cobbled together from pieces of space junk that is tethered to the Earth with invisible umbilical cords that drain what resources are left from the planet below.

Humanity itself has also changed in this novel by Lidia Yuknavitch. The combination of geocatastrophe and radiation has caused people to shed all their hair and absorb their own genitalia. The human body has become a place not of reproduction but of storytelling. The people of CIEL burn narratives into their bodies. Christine Pizan intends to graft onto her skin the story of Joan, a warrior who had a special connection to the Earth and seemed like she could save them all, until she was caught and burned alive.

This futuristic Joan of Arc story is full of ideas about life, the environment, the human body, and the power of story. It also sometimes feels shatteringly relevant, as in this early passage:

We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power.

Our existence makes my eyes hurt.

People are forever thinking that the unthinkable can’t happen. If it doesn’t exist in thought, then it can’t exist in life. And then, in the blink of an eye, in a moment of danger, a figure who takes power from our weak desires and failures emerges like a rib from sand. Jean de Men. Some strange combination of a military dictator and a spiritual charlatan. A war-hungry mountebank. How stupidly we believe in our petty evolutions. Yet another case of something shiny that entertained us and then devoured us. We consume and become exactly what we create.

So, yeah, there’s that.

I was pretty into the concept of this book, although I question setting it in such a near future. Maybe that’s my version of denial, but technology and human culture, never mind human physiology, seemed to have changed too much. But when I look back to what life was like 30 years ago, the technological advances seem a lot less far-fetched, and Yuknavitch has an explanation for the devolution. So that’s settled.

The story, though, I never could quite get into. I liked the idea of it, but I ended up bewildered by the shifts from CIEL to Earth, into the past and back to the present. There were some abrupt point of view shifts that I missed altogether. (I was reading an e-galley, so it’s possible that the final print book will at least have some spacing to provide visual cues.) I think I ended up able to put together all the many threads of the plot into something that sort of makes sense, but I never could wrap my mind around the skin graft storytelling.

I suspect a lot of people will love this book, because of passages like the one quoted above and how it draws on our current anxieties about the state of the planet. I’ll be interested to see what others think!

I received an egalley for review consideration via Edelweiss.

Posted in Fiction, Speculative Fiction | 10 Comments

The Nutmeg of Consolation

Nutmeg of Consolation Cover The further I get into Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, the more it feels like one long story, with each book just chronicling a new set of incidents in that story. So it’s harder to point to a specific novel and say, “this is the one about …” But, I shall try, if only to provide a refresher for myself when I pick up the next book.

The Nutmeg of Consolation is the 14th book in the series, and the second book in a five-volume circumnavigation of the globe. It begins where The Thirteen-Gun Salute left off, with Jack and Stephen and the crew of the Diane stranded on an island in the South China Sea. Their attempt to build a schooner is foiled by a group of Dyak pirates. But just as their rations are about to run out, Stephen meets some Chinese children who were on the island collecting birds’ nests, and after Stephen helps one of them with an injury, he asks their father to take them to Batavia.

In Batavia, Jack is given command of a newly captured ship, which he names The Nutmeg of Consolation. The Nutmeg leaves for New South Wales and, on the way, gets into battle with a French ship and is saved by the Surprise. Jack takes over command of the Surprise, and the ship sails to New South Wales, where Stephen and fellow naturalist Martin are astonished at the wildlife and learn that platpuses are more dangerous than you might think.

All are shocked at the brutal treatment of prisoners in the colony, and Stephen works to help his former assistant Padeen, who was sent to the colony for theft and is now becoming sick from the beatings, which only get worse when he attempts to escape. On top of that, they have to find a good home for a pair of Melanesian girls they found on a island whose other inhabitants had all been wiped out from smallpox. There’s also some Irish intrigue that I couldn’t follow very well. And Stephen loses his fortune, only to find that he didn’t lose it. Diane has a baby girl, making Stephen especially eager to get home.

This was one of the less exciting books in the series, because there’s no single problem or great drama. What suspense there is usually dissipates quickly, and the story moves on to something else. Instead, the focus is on enjoying the characters and setting, seeing different parts of the world and encountering different people, and I enjoy all of that very much. It is very much a book about the journey rather than a plot that presses toward a destination.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | 2 Comments

Pleasantville

PleasantvilleIt’s 1996, 15 years after the events of Black Water Risingand Jay Porter is still an attorney in Houston. Now a widower and a father of two, he’s made a career of helping people fight big corporations, usually involving environmental regulations, but since his wife’s death, he’s had a hard time getting motivated. He’s ready to call it quits.

Like Attica Locke’s other crime novels, Pleasantville explores race and society, this time with a focus on politics. The story begins on election night of 1996, when a young black woman named Alicia Nowell, who was working for a Houston mayoral campaign, disappears in the community of Pleasantville. Her disappearance is the third in this once prestigious black community. The other girls who disappeared were found dead a few days after their disappearance, so the clock is ticking.

The prime suspect in the Nowell disappearance is Neal Hathorne, grandson of the formidable Sam Hathorne and nephew of Axel Hathorne, who is hoping to become Houston’s first black mayor but must wait for a run-off election. Neal’s number was in Alicia’s pager, although he doesn’t remember ever meeting her, and there’s no record of her working for the Hathorne campaign. Jay is drawn into the case and called on to defend Neal

I’ve enjoyed all of Attica Locke’s books, and this was no exception. However, I did find that, like Black Water Rising, this book had a few more plot threads than I could comfortably keep track of, and the book as a whole is slightly less compelling than her earlier novels. I don’t think it’s necessary to have read Black Water Rising to understand this book, but there are some characters who reappear and references to the Cole Oil case from the earlier novel, and if I’d remembered those details, I might have had an easier time juggling the many threads. By the end of the book, the threads do come together in a way that I found pretty satisfying.

Posted in Fiction, Mysteries/Crime | 3 Comments

Hag-Seed

As artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, Felix Phillips is known to push the envelope with his interpretations of Shakespeare, even if “the playgoers and even the patrons had grumbled from time to time.” As a longtime theatre nerd and volunteer usher at DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, I had to laugh at the descriptions of each of controversial plays:

The almost-naked freely bleeding Lavinia in Titus was too upsettingly graphic, they’d whined; though, as Felix had pointed out, more than justified by the text. Why did Pericles have to be staged with spaceships and extraterrestrials instead of sailing ships and foreign countries, and why present the moon goddess Artemis with the head of a praying mantis? Even though—said Felix to the Board, in his own defense—it was totally fitting, if you thought deeply enough about it. And Hermoine’s return to life as a vampire in The Winter’s Tale: that had actually been booed. Felix had been delighted: What an effect! Who else had ever done it? Where there are boos, there’s life!

As a fan of off-beat interpretations of Shakespeare, I’d watch every single one of these, even if they did turn out to be ridiculous. And I like Felix’s attitude about the boos!

Margaret Atwood off-beat interpretation of Shakespeare finds Felix in preparation for what he hopes will be a ground-breaking production of The Tempest. It’s a labor of love; his daughter, named Miranda, has recently died, and he chose that name 3 years earlier because his love of her “kept him from sinking down into chaos” when her mother died in childbirth.

But Felix, like Prospero, has an Antonio to contend with. Tony runs the business side of the festival, and he’s the one who brings Tony the news that the Board has decided to let him go before he can bring his new triumph to the stage. So Felix takes himself into exile. Twelve years later, he finds a way out.

After years of living a solitary life, with no one but his daughter’s ghost to keep him company, Felix takes over a literature program at a local prison. He gets the inmates reading, discussing, and performing Shakespeare. (It actually sounds like a great program.) After his success with Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Richard III, circumstances lead Felix to decide that it’s time to bring his Tempest to life. And his Antonio will be there to see it.

So Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest for the Hogarth Shakespeare project includes an actual production of The Tempest. This is a clever way to handle the project without creating a story that’s inaccessible to people who don’t know the play. The structure of the novel allows for some explanation of the plot of the original so that readers will see the connections without having to read the summary at the back of the book. I saw The Tempest a little over two years ago, but it’s not a play I know well, so I was happy for the refresher.

I tend to enjoy Atwood’s realistic fiction more than her speculative work, so I was glad to see her writing in that mode again. There are bits of fantasy around the edges of the story, but this isn’t a fantasy in the way the play is. It’s a book about human feelings and how they play out in real life. On top that, this book is just good fun. It’s mostly fun, as a matter of fact. It’s not an exposé about the prison system or anything serious like that. The book is a joyful diversion that offers bits of wisdom about life, pretty much just like a Shakespearean comedy.

Posted in Fiction | 15 Comments

The Mouse and His Child

The Mouse and His Child CoverIn a toyshop just before Christmas, a clockwork mouse and his son are brought out of a box and placed on the counter. When wound, the father mouse dances in a circle, holding the hands of his son and lifting him in the air. And, at night, the mouse and his child discover that they can speak, and they get to know other toys in the shop. There’s a clockwork seal who balances a ball on her nose and a clockwork elephant who enjoys playing hostess to the dolls in the dollhouse.

The next day, the mice are taken away to live under a Christmas tree and then get packed away in a box until the next Christmas. But a toy’s life is unpredictable, and after four Christmases, a frightened cat sends the mouse and his child into the trash bin. And it is then that the adventures begin.

One of the most striking things about this 1967 book by Russel Hoban is the sense of longing imbued in its pages. The mouse and his child spend much of their life walking, walking, walking. They hope to find the elephant and the seal and the dollhouse, and they want to discover the secret of self-winding. Along the way, they make new friends who help them along, but circumstances intervene. And then there’s Manny the Rat, who enslaves and destroys windups and sees the mouse and his child as his chief quarry. And always they keep walking as long as they can, looking for their goal.

Whatever the windups might do, circumstances get in the way. They get stuck, sometimes for months at a time. Although there is a happy ending, and the child mouse has a lot of pluck, this is not exactly a book about pluck and good spirits winning the day. The father mouse’s perspective is the primary one, or at least it seemed so to me with my adult eyes, and the father mouse tends to worry about himself and about his son. And he’s far more conscious about the passing of time. The narrative makes a big deal about the constant passing of time, so you get passages like this one, describing the mice stuck underwater:

Water plants put out their roots and anchored to [the mouse child]; little colonies of algae settled on him, flourished, and increased; snails fed on the last scraps of his fur; catfish nibbled at his whiskers… The father, his eyes fixed always on his son, saw the words YOU WILL SUCCEED disappear as the good-luck coin turned green, then black. The child’s glass-bead eyes grew ever dimmer and more tired while the father watched helplessly, infinity at his back.

One thing about life that this book captures very well is of mix of sometimes tedious routine and sudden unexpected shake-up. It seems like the quest of the novel is actually to find a routine that is one of contentent, rather than of crushing tedium.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this is a wholly melancholy, contemplative book. It carries that one, but there’s also a lot of humor. There’s a particularly hilarious scene at the theatre, and there’s an eccentric muskrat who made me laugh.

It also was heartening how many of the animals and toys the mouse and his child met were happy to help them. They may not have been able to do much, and sometimes their help was no help at all, but there’s a lot of good-heartedness on display in this book. With the exception of the villainous Manny Rat, most of the characters are either helpful or just a little too caught up in their own thing to notice that help is needed. But, at heart, just about everyone is this book is fundamentally decent, even if they needed a push to get there. Somehow that gives me hope for the world.

Posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction | 13 Comments

A High Wind in Jamaica

When a hurricane levels their home in Jamaica, the Thorntons decide that the best thing to do is to put their five children on a ship to England. have Joining them are the two Fernandez children, both of them creoles and “a wildish lot.” The ship, the Clorinda, hasn’t even left the Caribbean when it is overtaken by pirates who bring the children on board. They … adapt.

This 1929 novel by Richard Hughes is both dark and hilarious. I don’t know what it says about me that I found a novel where the cat, a monkey, and one of the kids dies so funny, but I did. I think it’s the subversion of expectations regarding both childhood innocence and fragility.

The children are quick to adjust to their new life among the pirates, not even really understanding at first that they are with pirates and not much caring when they figure it out. The only two who seem to understand their situation are Margaret, the eldest Fernandez, and Emily, the Thornton daughter (second to John in age). And they each make the best of it in different ways, with very different results in the end.

Among the children, Emily gets the most attention in the narrative, and we see her going through a process of seeing herself as an individual, as Emily, and choosing where her loyalties are. Her journey, as well as Margaret’s, goes to some dark places. This is not a rollicking kids’ adventure. There is blood and death.

What’s startling is that the events that you’d think might have the most effect are not the ones that haunt the kids. Emily doesn’t care much, for example, about the hurricane that demolished her home, but she thrills at the memory of an earthquake. One of the deaths along the journey that should have scarred her doesn’t even warrant mentioning later. But she still frets over what happened to her cat Tabby in the hurricane. The conclusion shows that Emily’s mind is still very much her own, incomprehensible to most adults. She might do what they say, up to a point, but she is her own self. The best the adults can do is manage the world she and the other children are in to get the results they want.

 

Posted in Classics, Fiction | 7 Comments

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation

In this slim book, Jeff Chang shares his perspective on various racial conflicts and controversies of the past few years. The word “Notes” in the subtitle is essential to appreciating what this book is. It’s not a comprehensive study of race relations, nor is it a complete history. It is “notes”—that is, reflections. An essay collection.

That’s not to say that this book isn’t serious. It is very serious. Chang puts the subjects he’s mulling over in context, sometimes by looking at history and sometimes by just stepping back and providing a more complete picture than we might get in the moment.

Chang considers such topics as diversity and whiteness, student protest, diversity in Hollywood, gentrification and suburbia, the Ferguson uprising, Asian Americans, and Beyonce’s Lemonade. He has smart things to say about all of these topics, but if’ you’ve been following a lot of the conversation around these issues, you may not find a lot that’s new.

For my part, I got the most out of the chapter on Ferguson. I followed that story pretty closely, but social media made it a little like drinking from a fire hose. There was so much information, not all of it accurate, that it was hard to get a sense of what was really happening. The essay immediately before the one on Ferguson discusses resegregation as it relates to the suburbs, using St. Louis as an example of a highly segregated region. He writes:

Resegregation matters because it pulls communities and regions downward, and because it impacts us not just right now, but the life chances of those not yet born.

And yet, too few of us were paying attention until Michael Brown was shot. In Ferguson, Black resistance revealed the structure of what America ha become, and began to point toward  new ways of envisioning our shared future.

In the next essay, he tells the story of Michael Brown, his death, and the aftermath. I especially appreciated learning about what Michael Brown was like and getting a better understanding of the obstacles he faced. The story of who he was didn’t get nearly enough attention, and although Chang doesn’t claim to know exactly what happened in the moments before Brown was killed, he does present him as a full human being, writing:

Lives were complicated. The smallest things could trip you up. Those would could least afford it paid the most. Things could escalate in a heartbeat. The biggest mystery was how to turn it down without bowing down. And a life, in all its singularity and strangeness, was always worth the lifting, the telling, and the protecting, and never only for its fragility.

He goes on to describe the protests after Brown’s death, sharing stories from people who were there, and showing how it escalated. That essay, on its own, made this book worth my time. The others stand out less, although I enjoyed them well enough as I was reading them.

Posted in Nonfiction, Short Stories/Essays | 8 Comments

Human Acts

In May 1980, students and workers in Guangju, South Korea, rose up in protest against the government, and the government responded with violence that lasted for days. Hundreds of people died, and many more were arrested. 

I knew nothing about these events until reading this novel by Han Kang and translated by Deborah Smith set in Guangju in the days and years after the uprising. She begins with the immediate aftermath—the bodies. So many bodies, too many to dispose of easily. A teenage boy, Dong-hu (referred to as “you” in this chapter), is one of many who helps organize the bodies and record what can be discerned about them. These decaying bodies are witnesses and reminders.

The book then moves on to other witnesses and participants, each chapter looking back at the massacre from a different point of view. Many of the characters in subsequent chapters knew Dong-hu, but some did not know him well. Each one experienced the period leading up to the uprising, the violence, and the aftermath a little differently. And each one is scarred by it, even decades later.

This is a difficult book to read. Han does not hold back in her descriptions, whether she’s focusing on putrefying bodies or specific tortures inflicted on the imprisoned. One thing is clear is that bodies matter. It is bodies that are put on the line. Bodies are vulnerable to pain and death. Bodies carry scars and the memory of suffering. And although people are more than bodies, bodies and spirits cannot be separated, even among the dead. I think that’s the reason the book is so graphic. This is not an inspirational look at how protest lifts the soul.

That’s not to say that Han is saying protest is meaningless. I’m not sure she’s taking a position on that at all. The people who get involved do so because they can’t avoid it. The wrongs have become too great to keep silent, and some form of resistance has become inevitable. But the politics behind the protest don’t seem to her main interest, unless there’s some undercurrent I missed because I don’t know South Korean politics. What does interest her are the consequences of violence, especially violence inflicted by the state.

The characters in this book are haunted by ghosts, by memories, by fear, by guilt. Each one related to the Guangju massacre in a different way, but there was no avoiding the consequences. This is what large-scale violence looks like. You get the sense that the entire community is scarred, although some scars actively itch more than others.

Because of the subject matter, Human Acts is a difficult book to read. It bore into me almost from the beginning, although it doesn’t have the compelling weirdness of Han’s The Vegetarian. But it’s not straightforward historical fiction either. Each chapter has a slightly different style, some dreamlike and some more visceral. I think that approach works better than a more literal rendering of events would. It’s not a book about getting to the bottom of what happened but a book about the feelings that linger in individuals and in a country. In that respect, it’s powerful.

Posted in Fiction | 6 Comments

Fly By Night

Mosca Mye’s mother died in childbirth, leaving her with her father, the meticulously minded scholar, Quillam Mye. Although Quillam “felt a brief calm at the idea of turning his daughter into a freak by teaching her letters,” he couldn’t help himself. If he’d had no child to teach, he’d have taught the cat. The two lived in the Fractured Realm for eight years, until Quillam died, leaving Mosca in the care of her uncle in the village of Chough.

When Mosca was 12, she’d had enough. When the traveler and storyteller Eponymous Clent came to town, she saw her way out, so she took her best friend, a goose named Saracen, and asked him for a job. But first she had to break him out of prison. And then they had to hurry away because she’d set her uncle’s mill on fire.

This novel by Frances Hardinge reads like fantasy, but there’s not actually any definitive magic in it. It’s just an alternate world with a full, rich history. The people of the Fractured Kingdom pray to gods known as “The Beloved,” but whether the Beloved are real is uncertain. The realm itself has suffered from war between Royalists and Parliamentarians and is now in an uneasy state of peace, presided over by several tradesmens’ guilds. Most notable are the Stationers, who control and approve all written material, and the Locksmiths, who act as law enforcement. Watermen patrol the rivers, there’s a secret school and floating coffee houses and a mysterious highwayman a dazzlingly beautiful sister to a Duke.

But the engine that keeps the story going is the practical and hard-headed and free-thinking Mosca Mye. Mosca was taught to read and loves words. Living with her uncle, she was “starved of words”:

She had subsisted on workaday terms, snub and flavorless as potatoes. Clent had brought phrases as vivid and strange as spices, and he smiled as he spoke, as if tasting them.

It’s no wonder that Mosca was willing to risk herself to go away with Clent. He offered what she hungered for. And it’s not just words—it’s travel and adventure and the chance to make a best friend who doesn’t have feathers.

And Mosca finds adventure. Her curiosity puts her in the middle of some complex intrigues, where it’s never clear who to believe. Hardinge shows that Mosca’s lack of exposure to the world has made her vulnerable but her good sense and keen observation skills save her again and again. She has to think things through, and she gets on the wrong track sometimes, but her mind is always working, not accepting everything at face value, but not going into every situation assuming the worst either. She has a wonderful mix of skepticism and openness.

This book is also often very funny. Sometimes Mosca’s straightforward way of talking made me laugh, and then there are things like these crimes, etched into the Chiding Stone of Chough:

“Mayfly Haxfeather, for Reducing Her Husband to Shreds with the Lashings of Her Tongue,” and … “Sop Snatchell, for Most Willful and Continual Gainsaying.”

Saracen the Goose also provides comic relief, although I worried about him whenever Mosca would stow him in boxes and carry him around. Having a goose for a friend can be inconvenient for both girl and goose.

Mosca’s adventures continue in Fly Trap. I look forward to reading it and more of Hardinge’s books!

Posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction | 6 Comments